In June 2013 John Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan will be staged at the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York. This is the latest in a continuing series of productions of plays from the early modern repertoire there. This website has been created, both to track the Marston production as it develops from pre-rehearsal preparation to public performance, and to host a conversation about the play between an international team of scholars, who have been invited to contribute thought pieces about Marston’s extraordinary comedy, which will, we hope, in their turn provoke responses from others.
The Dutch Courtesan is a rarely performed, but frequently debated, text. Much that has been written about it depends, explicitly or implicitly, upon assumptions about how it is likely to register in performance. Countless commentators have assumed, for example, with Anthony Caputi that the title character’s heavy accent is designed to render her comic. Caputi observes in parenthetical support of this belief that “apparently all accents were funny to the Jacobeans” (John Marston, Satirist (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1961), p.231). Such has long been the majority view, though there have been occasional dissenters, including T. S. Eliot, who argued in 1934 that Franceschina’s “isolation is enhanced by her broken English” (Elizabethan Dramatists (London: Faber & Faber, Inc., 1963), p.158). The paucity of the performance history, however, means that these contrary perceptions have rarely been tested in the rehearsal room or on stage. The forthcoming York production affords one such opportunity.
In the way of all productions, it will, if successful, come up with merely one solution to a script which is capable of yielding multiple, competing, realisations. We hope, however, that we will emerge from the process having put some long-held assumptions about the play to the test – and also, if our venture prospers, having discovered new possibilities in the play which it would be difficult for desk-bound study alone to detect. Marston himself lamented that “scenes invented merely to be spoken should be enforcively published to be read” (John Marston, “The Malcontent” and Other Plays, ed. Keith Sturgess (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p.326). We like to think that, although Marston, in later life, and then in holy orders, refused to have his name associated with a reprinting of his plays, his younger self would have heartily approved of our undertaking.
The University of York’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television is committed to combining traditional analytical and historical approaches to the study of theatre with performance experiment and exploration in specially designed, and handsomely equipped, theatre spaces. This means that each of its early modern productions rests on detailed investigation of, for example, the play’s textual history, the performance circumstances which shaped it, and to which it responded, and the competing interpretations of it bequeathed to us by critical tradition and by its various reappearances on stage across the intervening centuries (including, often, in adapted forms.)
It is not, however, our aim to mount “original practices” productions. Instead, our ambition is to produce contemporary stagings of early modern masterpieces, which build as thoroughly as possible upon all the knowledge we can accumulate and absorb about their original crafting and cultural resonances, but create from that informedness a new event which communicates as directly as we can achieve to an early twenty-first century audience. This website is an attempt to chart that process in action, with the added difference this time which the internet makes possible – i.e. the active involvement, in exploring the play and its worlds, and in helping therefore to shape the eventual production, of informed voices from across the globe.
None of this would be possible without the enthusiastic involvement of students from the Department of Theatre, Film and Television, whose voluntary and pro-active participation, as performers and as members of the production team, have been indispensable to all our early modern projects at York. This time, in addition, the website itself is made possible by the assembling of a team of student interns (from both the BA and BSc wings of the Department) to collaborate together on providing and editing both written and visual material for the site. They are currently involved in a myriad of research tasks, whose results will in due course appear on the site, and they will also be filming the rehearsal, design, and production processes. To all of them we are deeply indebted, as also to all our willing and generous collaborators from beyond York.
(Ken Dixon Professor of Drama & Head of Theatre,
Department of Theatre, Film and Television,
University of York)